At some point throughout their lifetime, every athlete has the dream to play professionally, even if just for a moment. The thought of getting to play your sport as your day job? There are few things better than that.
Unfortunately, there are slim pickings of opportunities to play professionally in the United States. However, that simply allows athletes to broaden their horizons, and provide them the chance to play volleyball while also being able to experience a life outside of the United States.
Outside of the USA, there are also a plethora of opportunities for men to play volleyball at the professional level. Many American male and female players have found success around the globe to play professionally, including the many players who also don’t compete with the USA National Olympic Team.
Which Countries Have Professional Volleyball Teams?
The FIVB (The International Volleyball Federation) has over 200 governing nations with professional volleyball teams for both men and women. As of the 2022 season, there are Americans playing in Turkey, Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, Russia, Finland, Portugal, Israel, Poland, Denmark and more.
Matt Knigge is a DIII, Vassar alum who is decorated as one of the best student athletes in Vassar sport history. He has also made a name for himself professionally, and is currently playing for one of the top teams in Spain for a third straight season, Club Voleibol Guaguas.
Lauren Carlini is a DI, University of Wisconsin alum, and gave herself the name as one of the best setters in Badger history. When she is not competing with the USA National Olympic team, she is playing professionally in another country. For the upcoming 2022/2023 season, Carlini has left Turkey to play in Italy for VBC Trasporti Pesanti Casalmaggiore.
Pros of Playing Volleyball Internationally
There are many known perks for playing volleyball abroad, most common being the opportunity to play at the professional level. However, there are innumerable amounts of exciting parts not commonly thought about or brought to the table during the conversation about playing internationally.
One of the best parts about playing volleyball (or any sport!) in another country, is the incredible opportunity you have to not only learn, but participate in another culture. When you move to another country for the duration of a season, you are there longer than any typical length of a vacation. When you first arrive, naturally you will participate in common tourist activities and attractions outside of your training, but you will be there long enough to immerse yourself into your new country’s culture. If you truly take the time to create these one of a kind opportunity experiences, it will drastically change your life during your time abroad.
Not only does playing professionally give you an inside experience with other cultures, it can provide a plethora of experiences that could lead to potential opportunities upon your return to America. Whether that be playing at the professional level in the states, landing a coaching position at your dream university, or simply just be a great experience that gives you countless transferable skills and experiences to adapt to both your job and life back home in the United States.
Another great perk of playing volleyball at the professional level: getting paid. As an athlete, getting paid a salary to show up to the gym each day to play the sport you love is simply the dream. Now, professional volleyball salaries are not what professional salaries are in the USA, but they don’t need to be. In most countries, you can live comfortably on what would be considered an extremely small salary in the United States. If you are offered a contract with a salary that seems low, make sure you have done your research because it could be considered a high salary for that particular country.
Realistic Barriers of Playing Volleyball Abroad
A barrier not commonly known to anyone who is not trying to move abroad: obtaining an international visa. Each country has their own set of rules and obligations on how an international athlete can come to their country, and what visa they need to secure. Generally, if a club has offered you a contract, they are confident you will be granted the visa in order to be allowed to stay in the country for the duration of the season, which is much longer than any tourist visa. This process can take up to months at a time, but volleyball clubs will do their best to help international athletes in any way possible to help ensure the smoothest process possible. However, this is not only the case, and it is important to note, and talk about with the club before committing to signing any type of contract.
Something that often gets placed as an afterthought when moving abroad is how to navigate the language barrier. Any native English speaker moving abroad is extremely lucky their native language is English. As English is rapidly becoming one of the most sought out languages to learn in the world, many people across the globe have conversational level English. However, that is not something you can rely on when moving to another country. It is inevitable you will encounter a language barrier, and it is important to arrive with a plan of how you will navigate this challenge. Many times a club will provide a translator if there is no one who speaks English, but it is important to take the time to learn words and basic phrases to help with a smooth transition into your new life for the next few months.
When moving abroad, the inevitable homesickness always happens. There is something I like to call the “vacation phase”. It references when you move to a new country, you simply feel like you are on vacation for the first two to three weeks, and then it slowly sinks in when you aren’t going back home. Moving to a new place to play volleyball professionally, there is a high probability you are going on your own, and know absolutely no one. Homesickness is normal. Your coaches and teammates will know this, especially the other athletes who are far away from home as well. When you move abroad, have a small plan in safe keeping for how you will deal with your homesickness, whether it be FaceTime calls, snail mail letters, etc., as well as making sure you lean on your teammates when you need them.
Playing Volleyball Overseas
Having the opportunity to play volleyball across the ocean is not something everyone gets to say they had. Being able to play professionally will take a lot of hard work and effort on your side, but it will be well worth it when you are signing your first contract, and preparing for a move across the globe. Your time abroad will prepare you, and set you up for success with experiences and transferable skills for the rest of your life.